December 19

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All Good Things

Unfortunately the time is now fast approaching (3 days as I post) when I will have to say goodbye to Rwanda and head back to the UK. As is natural at times like these, it has led me to reflect on my time here and evaluate the impact I have had in Rwanda and how the experience has changed me (2 of the 3 PULSE objectives – the other I can’t comment on until after I return to GSK!)

So let’s start with the impact I have had in Rwanda. I think it’s fair to say that the warehouse I work in definitely has an African culture compared with what I am more used to back home. Luckily I had prepared myself to expect some differences – and there were certainly many – but the thing that impressed me most was people’s willingness to learn, and the way they have embraced change. I’ve definitely seen visible changes since I have been working here – and I was very touched when the Director General of the Rwandan Biomedical Centre visited recently and said he could see massive improvements too and thanked me for making such a big difference. Some of the changes are quite simple (such as new lights in the aisles so people can see what products they are picking), others are more complex such as changing roles and responsibilities and developing some metrics but the key thing about all of these has been to ensure that the patients get the right products of the right quality at the right time.

I’m also happy at being able to apply some coaching to members of the team to use some simple tools to look at ways to improve how they look at problems to identify the actual root cause or look for solutions instead of just identifying problems and accepting them as the way things happen. I have been very pleased to see this then being applied with the learnings being put to good use. It is always satisfying to see others develop and reach their potential, and know that they have some skills that will allow them to continue improving further after you’ve gone.

Looking at the changes and activities I have been involved with, I believe I have helped reduce the likelihood of poor quality product reaching patients, as well as taken steps to improve availability of products in Rwandan health centres and hospitals. This should have a direct positive impact on patients in Rwanda, and I know that this will improve still further in the future with the team that are in place.

So what about my development? Well I’ve certainly had to learn patience! To think that I get upset back in the UK if someone is 5 minutes late to a meeting, but that just wouldn’t work here (I just got some forwarded mail from the UK – it took 2 months to arrive). Meetings often start at least 30 mins late, and will finish hours late. Same applies when you order food in a restaurant – it’s rare for it to turn up in less than an hour, which is why most people opt for ready prepared buffets for lunch!

I’ve also definitely developed my coaching skills as that is an area that I quickly identified people needed assistance in. Development opportunities are more limited here than in GSK, with limited coaching and training opportunities, and limited opportunities for people to gain direct experience from other companies. I have therefore looked to help people across multiple areas – and not just limited to the area I was sent here to help with, but also in other areas I have worked in previously, such as quality.

I’ve also learned a lot about working in a different culture and environment which was one of my drivers for taking on a PULSE position, so I’m pleased to say I passed my own test in this regard, with strong positive feedback from the teams I’ve been working with and a recognition in myself that I have successfully delivered in a very different environment.

I’ve also learned that you sometimes need to take a step back to evaluate where you are and where you are going, as sometimes you can just get caught up in the whirlwind that is GSK! I’m able to say that I’m prouder than ever to work for a company like GSK that provides the opportunity to develop its staff whilst supporting communities in a sustainable way around the world. The impact that we have is visible, is highly valued, and the skills and coaching we provide ultimately make a big difference to some of the most needy communities and projects around the world. Common questions I am asked are “Can you stay longer?” and “Can GSK send more people like you?” so if you are considering PULSE let me reassure you – you WILL be welcomed warmly, you WILL make a difference – even though it may take you a while to realise it – and you will NEVER regret the experience.

I also had the privilege of being able to join the GSK team based in Rwanda for their Orange Day at a local orphanage before I left. It was an emotional day, and one I am glad I attended. Everyone made us feel very welcome, and the children of various ages seemed to be very happy despite their limited resources (they had even had their power and water cut due to unpaid bills). They are also very ingenious – such as being caught cheating in the marble on a spoon race (like an egg and spoon race but replacing the egg with a marble) where one team used mud and sap from trees to make the spoon sticky! Luckily the right team (mine) won in the end. We ended with a shared meal and some amazing singing from some of the children. Definitely an unforgettable experience – and they can sing better than any X factor star (check the video below).

Last weekend I finally managed a trip to Akagera National Park where I got to see plenty of wildlife – even managed a selfie with some giraffes (there were loads of them). I’ve added a few photos below – including what I thought was a very apt sunset as I reach the sunset of my time here in Rwanda.

Akagera Sunset Baboon Elephant Hippo Giraffe

And I then had 2 leaving presentations – one from CHAI at the Christmas party and another with the MPPD leadership team over dinner. I’ve included some photos of those too (not sure if the shirts myself, Colleen and Desmond will be as inconspicuous in GSK house and the US sites though).

LT Farewell PULSE Rwanda

I thought it might also be fun to end on a list of the 10 things I will miss the most when I return to the UK – note these are in no particular order:

  1. The people – so friendly and happy and willing to share their experiences and lives with you.
  2. The weather (I’m British – what else would you expect me to say!) The climate here is perfect – not too hot, not too cold, not too humid and the same all year round!
  3. Mr Chips – they do so much more than chips (great pizza on Wednesdays) and even have malt vinegar for the British! Also within walking distance from my house.
  4. Akabanga – fantastic hot sauce that is so powerful it comes in a dropper.
  5. Műtzig – great local beer and so cheap too (less than £1 a bottle in most bars).
  6. Monday night quiz at Sole Luna with the other muzungus – my team has won 3 times whilst I was here.
  7. The clean safe streets you can walk around any time without any fear of any crime – and the friendly police on every corner (although I’m still not a fan of police having guns).
  8. The stunning scenery everywhere you go – there’s a reason they call Rwanda the land of a thousand hills!
  9. The amazing wildlife – from the countless hawks circling overhead all day in Kigali, to the unforgettable mountain gorillas that walked inches from me and the elephant we quite literally nearly ran into!
  10. The pace of change in the country that is delivering day by day improvements and filtering down as a can-do attitude to the general population.

And the 10 things I’m looking forward to on my return:

  1. Guaranteed water and electricity meaning you don’t have to worry if you will be able to shower in the morning (and no more cold shaves).
  2. Good cheese and wine (they have some way to go on these areas in Rwanda unless you like Gouda and wine in a box).
  3. British beer – still the best in the world.
  4. Fast unlimited internet rather than relying on getting a 3G phone signal or a 4G connection in certain bars and restaurants.
  5. Drivers who stay in traffic lanes and obey traffic lights – although I’ve got used to the way of driving in Rwanda.
  6. Catching up with friends and family.
  7. Catching live rugby again at the mighty Harlequins.
  8. The weather – yes I know this is also on the other list, but bizarrely perfect weather every day can actually get a bit boring (feels like perpetual summer) and it definitely doesn’t feel like Christmas when it’s 25C.
  9. Not having to worry about giant cockroaches.
  10. Returning to GSK to see where I can make a difference there.